The Research Hub for Youth Organizing supports young people's capacity to claim power and create more just communities through field-driven research.
We advance youth participation and leadership by co-creating and sharing research and curriculum with youth organizers, teachers, education leaders and policy makers.
Founded in 2016 with support from the Ford Foundation, we are housed in the University of Colorado Boulder's School of Education and comprised of staff, faculty, researchers and graduate students affiliated with CU Engage and the National Education Policy Center (NEPC).
Examples of our work from our first two years include:
- Co-designing a YPAR toolkit and web platform to support new youth chapters working with local organizing groups in Colorado.
- Building a curriculum about social movements in the global south for partners in South Africa.
- Recognizing 45 high schools across the nation as Schools of Opportunity.
- Co-publishing a policy memo and report establishing the research evidence supporting community schools as an effective school improvement strategy with the Learning Policy Institute.
- Providing evaluation support to new initiatives and developing lessons for the field on how youth organizers build political power.
Rationale for a Research Hub supporting youth-led social change
Data is central to campaigns and movement-building
Youth-led movements utilize evidence to draw attention to inequality, inform specific campaigns, and hold policymakers accountable. For example, South Africa’s Equal Education engaged in systematic research to document inequalities in school infrastructure, such as bathrooms and libraries, which strengthened their campaign for minimum norms and standards. Youth leadership groups with this kind of research capacity, however, are the exception rather than the norm. Contributing relevant and timely research requires far more than publishing excellent research—it requires building strong relationships between researchers and activists that ensure that research products are relevant and actionable.
Youth organizers know what the pressing questions are
The Research Hub starts with the assumption that youth activists already have key knowledge about the needs and interest in their communities and insight about the most urgent research questions that should be pursued. We see our job as convening activists across regions and nations to support peer to peer learning, and in cases where new research is needed, develop partnerships that address those questions in timely and relevant ways. Drawing on methods from the learning sciences, this partnership approach improves the quality and relevance of research while strengthening education justice movements.
The Research Hub leverages university resources for higher impact
Through the collaboration of its university research centers (NEPC and CU Engage), the Hub can leverage existing resources, networks, and expertise to disseminate research findings, respond to research requests in a timely way, and convene groups to strengthen relationships. Core to this proposal is the idea that NEPC and CU Engage are not building a new organization. Rather we serve as a conduit to facilitate and strengthen connections between multiple networks that cross communities, geographic regions and sectors.
We use a broad and flexible framing for this work
In the United States, the Research Hub is explicit about focusing on supporting youth organizing for education justice, but internationally, we use broader terms for the work, including civic engagement and youth leadership. In many nations, the terms social justice, community organizing, and youth organizing either have different meanings or may pose risks to activists.
More about our work
Flipping historical paradigms of university-based research, the goal of the research hub is for the work to be in partnership with those in the field and those working within the educational justice movement.
The research hub's primary goal is to leverage the resources and potential of education researchers at CU Boulder to produce high quality and accessible research to inform education justice policy. "NEPC will do this by expanding the reach of our Closing the Opportunity Gap projects, and continuing to work with our more than 120 fellows." notes Michelle Renée Valladares, NEPC Associate Director. CU Engage will draw on its expertise and position working thoughtfully and equitably with community groups and educational justice advocates locally and globally.
Both CU Engage and NEPC employ a unique approach to creating and sharing research as a tool to advance social justice. Specifically, they use the power of high-quality research, the democratic mission of a public university, and the social capital of university affiliations to develop publications and projects that address inequalities in our education system and in schools’ surrounding communities. The policy expertise and national foci of NEPC combined with the community-based and participatory research of CU Engage complement each other well.
“This project is exciting for CU Boulder because it will provide funded graduate research training opportunities in community-based research. Graduate researchers will get training and support to carry out rigorous research that addresses complex public challenges in partnership with community groups,” Kirshner explains. CU Engage has hired current graduate student Taphy Tivaringe as the CU Engage GRA and newcomer Siomara Valladares, who completed her PhD at UCLA, as the CU Engage Research Associate. NEPC is in the process of hiring a new Research Associate.
CU Engage’s specific contribution will be to focus on research related to youth issues. Young people across the country are engaging in campaigns and movements to improve educational opportunity, dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline, and have a voice in the political process. Research is needed that can document the impact of this work and identify best practices when communities or districts implement needed reforms.
Together, NEPC and CU Engage are excited for the opportunity to contribute fresh and meaningful research to the education justice movement locally and beyond.